Kelley O’Brien reviews Take Your Medicine by Hannah Carmack

I first heard of Hannah Carmack’s new book, Take Your Medicine, when I was browsing Nine Star Press’ upcoming books. The cover of Carmack’s book was gorgeous (fancy script and lovely pink roses – totally up my alley) so I took a chance and clicked on it. After reading the synopsis, my jaw dropped. Not because the description was appalling or anything, but because the main character, Al, has a condition very similar to one I also have. Al has vasovagal syncope, which I actually used to be diagnosed with. I’ve since been diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). The symptoms and treatments are essentially the same, but the triggers are different. Never in my life have I come across a character that went through the same struggle I do on a daily basis.

I began reading the book the second I got my hands on it. Not only was it incredibly validating to be able to see yourself in fiction, but it also makes you feel much less alone, like your illness matters. Only around a hundred pages, Take Your Medicine didn’t take me very long to get through and is a great way to spend a few hours of downtime.

The story is about a teenager girl named Alice Liddell, Al for short, and is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. This isn’t the Alice in Wonderland you’re used to, but a southern gothic retelling in which Alice is black, chronically ill, and just discovering she might not be as straight as she once thought.

Beloved characters from the classic novel appear, including the Queen of Hearts who is Al’s mom and a cardiothoracic surgeon, hellbent of trying to find a cure for her sick daughter. After a chance encounter with Rabbit and Kat, Al takes to rebelling against her mom in the hopes that Rabbit and Kat, two teenage witches, might be able to help cure her. Friendship ensues and Al eventually falls for Rabbit, the quieter of the two girls. Something happens that brings realization to several of the characters, and the story wraps up.

I think the book may have benefited from being a bit longer and getting to see more of the relationship develop between Al and Rabbit. The books strengths really lie in the relationship between Al and her mother, Al’s descriptions of her illness, and the fun cast of characters. While I thought Rabbit was sweet and really liked her, I really loved Kat kind of wanted the three girls to have a polyamorous relationship together.

If you like books that features chronically ill characters (written by a chronically ill author!), southern gothic lit, sweet romances, and well-written mother-daughter relationships, then I recommend giving Take Your Medicine a try. In fact, I recommend it anyway!


Shira Glassman reviews Moon-Bright Tides by RoAnna Sylver

First of all, do I really need to say anything other than “sweet romance novella between a witch and a mermaid” in the first place? But I have lots more to say about Moon-Bright Tides by RoAnna Sylver, which rocketed to the top of my f/f fantasy recs list as soon as I read it last month.

“If you ever fear the water again, remember that I’m in it.” That was the point where I teared up and started flailing on Twitter.

It’s easy to reel me in with a fairy-tale about healing from trauma, but this one was exceptionally well done with prose that’s both well-crafted and easy to swallow, like the stew our witchy heroine leaves brewing for herself every night via the magical equivalent of a crockpot (which is just “hey, pot of stew, be warm when I get back to the dock, mmkay?”)

Sylver creates what I can only describe as a “beautiful dystopian” — this is a world where what’s gone horribly wrong is that humans, in some undescribed catastrophe, managed to destroy the moon. In its place, a lonely witch named Riven paddles out in her boat every night to call the tides.

The setup may be fanciful, but her sorrow and loneliness as she grieves for the rest of her family, lost to the sea, is familiar and real and stripped raw of any of the distance one might suppose the fantasy elements might grant. She’s also longing for a different kind of life, one she hasn’t even really identified yet at the beginning but comes to understand, in which she’s still serving others but in a different capacity.

Enter a mer, unidentified in name or gender at first, but who turns out to be female. Sylver does a good job of making mer culture seem distinctly different from humans; when Riven tries to explain that the sounds of her name doesn’t mean anything, the mer reminds her “they mean you.”

The text heavily suggests that Riven is neurodivergent, with several references to other people reacting badly to her conversation, or to her frustration with hidden rules about what questions you’re allowed to ask. In contrast, the mer, who does wind up with a human translation of her mer name over the course of the story, accepts and likes Riven’s way of thinking and speaking. Also, Riven is fat, which you can see on the cover, and this is presented as completely neutral and that kind of thing is important.

Much of what makes this story so special is hard to explain without spoilers, but we are given progressively more and more beautiful reveals to unwrap until I wept at the quote with which I began this review.

At ten thousand words, it’s possible to read it in one sitting, yet it’s also a complete and satisfying happily-ever-after.

This a good read for people who are easily freaked out by too much worldbuilding. This is one of the easiest to parse fantasy setups I have ever seen. It manages to be fresh and creative and magical while not confusing me at all. I know this sounds weird for a fellow fantasy author to say, but then again, my series is basically “what if all the things I like lived in a palace in my childhood city.” Here’s a thread about what I’m talking about. But anyway, RoAnna Sylver gets it so right, maybe partially because in the course of explaining themselves to each other, the witch and the mermaid are also letting us-the-audience in slowly at a reasonable pace.

This is also a recommended read for those looking for f/f romance that isn’t sexually explicit. (In fact, heatwise it’s probably at the level of a Disney princess movie, although I’m not sure I can say the same about some of the implied offscreen violence in the book’s past.)

Here’s a Gumroad link if you’d prefer pdf to Kindle.


Marthese reviews Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea

mermaid-in-chelsea-creek

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is yet another book I have been meaning to get into and the hype did not disappoint. This young adult fantasy book is set in Chelsea, Massachusetts and follows Sophia a teenage girl with Polish ancestry.

Sophia and her best friend Ella like to play the pass-out game because it’s the only thing to do in Chelsea. One day, when they are playing the game near the filthy creek, Sophia has a vision of a mermaid. Sophia’s mother Andrea is neglectful yet worried when Sophia admits to playing the game because she was freaking out. Something in her was coming forth. Sophia eats a lot of salt- this is a big element in the book.

At face value, this book is about Sophia coming into her powers and the people around her changing and being seen in new lights. Ella changes, people she saw often take on a new light and pigeons start to mean something nice, wonderful. On a deeper lever, this book tackles evil and sadness and the wrongness that’s in humanity- it treats elements like pollution and pain and sadness of both the oppressed and the oppressors. Humanity is caged, with seemingly no way out. This book plays on the readers understanding of these topics and offers lightness and hope. Sophia is supposed to help heal humanity from its corruption; her power allows her to see inside a person’s emotions and heal them. To heal humanity, that’s her mission.

Sophia discovers that she is a legend. She always knew she liked salt but now she understands why. Salt is an ancient preservative and measure- it makes sense to incorporate it into the story. Speaking about legends, this book beautifully incorporates different cultures and their ideas on witches. Chelsea is very multicultural.

This book also explores family dynamics: how generations can help each other or destroy one another. In Sophia’s case, it’s the latter; her mother is neglectful, her grandmother is worse. There are other positive family representations though. There’s Angel- who Sophia’s grandmother introduces as a guy but is in fact a girl- and her mother. There’s also Sophia’s lost relations which were in front of her the whole time.

This book features elements that at first you think are weird. Whoever thought that pigeons could be helpful main characters? Or mermaids making use of sea waste? All elements mash up well together. The sentences are constructed exquisitely, things like ‘She would submit to the grime, become like a feral cat wandering the heaps of trash’ offer a sense of aesthetic pleasure which Sophia, with all the awareness of her surroundings also shares with the reader. The illustrations, done in a simple style add more to the book experience.

The queer elements in this book do not focus on blatant relationships – although Angel for sure has a thing for Syrena the mermaid. Sophie is 13 but unlike Ella, she is not boy struck. She just values her friend.

I cannot wait to read the second book and see where the story goes. I definitely recommend this book to people that like fantasy, mermaids, pigeons, magic, character development and family dynamics and philosophical themes with some constructive criticism to the world that we live in.

Marthese Recommends Lesbian Witch Books!

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I am currently reading Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson which so far seems great, but I am only mid-way and the action is just starting. The book only has a secondary queer character – who so far has already flirted with the main character- but I get the queer vibe from many of the other characters. There is something about witches and covens and female-bonds that seems very queer!witchesofechopark

I love witches and fantasy stories but unfortunately am always left searching for ones with queer protagonists and there aren’t a lot but I have managed to find some books. I wanted to create a list that other people can use to read about queer witches. There are more than these but probably these are the most famous or one that I especially like! So here we go.

That Witch! by Zoe Lynne

That Witch! is a book that I have been meaning to read for ages, but unfortunately all physical book copies that I find will probably break my bank account. It follows high school students Cassidy and Brynn. It seems somewhat cliché where one is popular while the other one is a social outcast and also has the trope of ‘the-project-which-they-must-work-on-together’ but it sounds sweet and there are parallels drawn between magic and sexuality.

Kissing the WitchKissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue

This is the first book that I read by Emma Donoghue who I now consider my favourite author. Not only is what she writes important from a queer perspective but how she writes it is just magical. Kissing the Witch is a series of famous fairytales retold with a twist. The witch is an integral part of the stories, which although different there is always an element from the previous story integrated in the following one, which brings the book to a full circle. The short stories will retain your attention, I promise!

The Engelsfors Trilogy (The Circle, Fire, The Key) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Elfgrencircle

The Engelsfors trilogy is about a group of young witches that go to the same school and come from different backgrounds that must unite together to fight evil. In the first book there are hints of a same-sex relationship possibly developing, which it does in the second book. There is also a comic based on the series that is unfortunately not translated into English yet, and this February there was a Swedish film made based on the first book by the same name! The books are quite chunky but if you like witches, you’ll probably devour them like I did. It never happened that I read a 500 page book in a few days while on holiday (in Sweden) to boot!

One Solstice Night by Elora Bishop

onesolsticenightSarah Diemer and her wife Jennifer Diemer are renowned for their retellings. One Solstice Night follows Isabella Fox, who isn’t that good at her magic-making. She moves into Benevolence, where she is the resident witch. There is quite a wintery feel to this story, so better read this one now before the weather changes! (at least in my part of the hemisphere). I love Solstice, both Winter and Summer, and the fact that there is a story based on that time of the year with a clumsy witch and romance with a shapeshifter? Bonus points for a super cute and squee-worthy story. Honourable mention also goes to The Witch Sea by the same author, which is a dark, short story that could be read for free from smashwords. It’s not a story for the faint-hearted though!

Promises, Promises by L.J. Bakerpromisespromises

After reading Adijan and Her Genie, I’ve been meaning to read this one! Like Adijan, it contains a female character that is a troublemaker. This story seems to be not only about yet another not good at magic-making witch but also an adventure with a lot of travelling and a band of diverse companions! What’s not to love?

Honourable mention goes to Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who needs no introduction. She had her own focused one-shots which you can read! Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow and Tara (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Comic #25) is something that I bought in 2008, with a red face hoping the cashier did not know what it was. It contains mainly two stories: “WannaBlessedBe” and “Wilderness” and is something that I reread all over again. Willow and Tara are powerful witches and they prove it in these stories. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow is a one-shot from season 8 while Willow: Wonderland is an amazing Willow-centric comic with beautiful art from Buffy season 9 that yet again proves how powerful and determined she is. The series also has some comics that would focus more on Willow as a character such as “Punish Me With Kisses” from Lover’s Walk which could be read for free from the BBC cult website.

I hope that this list gave you some inspiration on what to read. If you have more queer witchy book suggestions, why not leave them in the comments below?

[Editor’s note: Check out this Goodreads list for more lesbian witch books!)

Danika reviews Charm School Book One: Magical Witch Girl Bunny by Elizabeth Watasin

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I’m very glad this book exists. It is adorable. It takes place in Little Salem, a magical place filled with monsters, faeries, and supernatural beings of all kinds. Bunny is a cute witch with a badass, butch, biker, vampire girlfriend, Dean. Their relationship is really sweet, and Dean is the quintessential swoonworthy bad boy butch. And they go to queer youth meetings with zombies, mummies, demons, and lots more people! Oh, and they attend Haunt High, where they learn about potions, magic, and other supernatural elements.

Unfortunately, Bunny’s problem is that she’s always had a thing for faerie girls, who are unattainable–closer to gods than mere mortals. When Fairer Than, a gorgeous faerie girl, takes a liking to Bunny, her relationship with Dean is in danger. But Fairer Than isn’t like other faeries (or, after all, she wouldn’t be slumming with witches). What’s her motivation?

I also appreciated that although Bunny and Fairer Than appear to be white, Dean is asian (or, at least, her birth name is “Yu Ying”) and Bunny’s best friend Blanchet is black. Unfortunately, Dean’s father kind of looks like a caricature of an asian man, and Blanchet is a “voodoo princess”. So I’m not sure how to think about Charm School’s depiction of race. Still, I’m used to Fantasy books using supernatural creatures as stand ins for minorities and not including any people of colour at all, so I’m guess my bar is pretty low.

Just having a supernatural world with a biker butch vampire and a cute lesbian witch was really fun for me. It sort of reminds me of Halloweentown, if that was a lesbian teen cartoon. I would love to read the next book if I can get my hands on it, and I think this would make a great, fun Halloween read.

Bi & Lesbian Book Recommendations

If you’re not sure where to start with queer women books, here are some of my favourites.

The Classics

1) Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae BrownRubfruit Jungle

This 1970s novel is not only a lesbian/queer women classic, it also entertaining and challenges social norms even to this day. I still remember the day I realized I needed to read more queer women books. It was when my mother found out I had not read Rubyfruit Jungle and said “And you call yourself a lesbian.” I’m glad she shamed me into picking it up. Lesbian author.

2) Patience and Sarah (or A Place for Us) by Isabel Miller

Written in 1969, but set in the early 19th century, this queer classic also manages to tell a romance between two women without being depressing. It also influenced my very author’s work: Sarah Waters.

3) Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Do not let this be the first lesbian book you read! If I was doing this list by order of which is most classic, I would start with this one, but it violated my cardinal rule: don’t be depressing. I recommend Well of Loneliness because it’s a classic (published in 1928), because it was actually surprisingly not very difficult to read, and because it was judged as obscene although the hot lesbian love scene consisted entirely of “And that night they were not divided”, but it’s not a pick-me-up book. In fact, if it wasn’t such a classic, I never would have read it at all; I refuse to read books that punish characters for being queer. I also got the suspicion while reading it that the protagonist was transgender, not a lesbian. Lesbian (or transgender?) author.

Young Adult

Aaah, what is more lesbian than the coming-out story…

Hello, Groin1) Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie

I found this book after my teens, but I still loved it. Hello, Groin deals with the protagonist’s attraction to women as well as censorship at her school. A book theme inside a lesbian book? I’m in love. It also is well-written and optimistic. I highly recommend this one.

2) Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

The classic lesbian teen book. I read this a while ago, so all I really remember is that I thought they fell in love awfully fast, but I enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a must-read for the well-read lesbrarian.

General Fiction

1) Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

This is my very favourite book, queer or not. Sarah Waters has a writing style that I can just sink into, and despite the fact that I rarely seek out historical fiction, I fell in love with Tipping the Velvet. The ending is such a perfect representation of the odd, complicated nature of love. Plus, this is a coming-out story, that classic trope. Fingersmith is a very close second, which also has lesbians, but includes an absolutely killer, twisting plot. If you’re not shocked by the direction this takes, you are much more clever than I am. Lesbian author.

2) Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg

This is an odd book for me. In the beginning, I thought, “this is sort of clumsily written”, but by the end I was blown away. I’m not sure what it is, but I really loved this book.

3) Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

This isn’t my favourite of Winterson’s books, but it is, again, a classic. Jeanette Winterson has a beautiful, dream-like way of writing, and I plan to read all of her books eventually, though she is quite prolific. This one is rumored to be semi-autobiographical, and it’s definitely worth reading. Lesbian author.

4) Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

I have a soft spot for fairy tale re-tellings, so it wasn’t surprising that a lesbian fairy tale re-telling made the list. What is surprising, though, is not only Donoghue’s readable writing style, but her ability to weave each story into the next, creating a whole tapestry connecting some of your favourite fairy tales. Lesbian author.

Memoirs/Biographies

1) anything by Ivan E. Coyote

Coyote is not exactly woman-identified, but ze’s not man-identified either, so that’s good enough for me to make the list. I love Coyote’s style, and the stories including in any of the collections (One Man’s Trash, Close to Spider Man, Loose End, The Slow Fix) are short, to-the-point, and always affecting. Queer author.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel cover2) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is the creator of the famous lesbian comics Dykes to Watch Out For. In her graphic autobiography, she illustrates her childhood, constantly drawing comparisons to her father. It may violate my “don’t be depressing” rule, but the comics alone are worth reading it for, and perhaps the uneasy feeling you’ll get afterward. Lesbian author.

3) Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer

I actually read about half of this thinking it was a really elaborate fictional story, so that should tell you how well it was written. Plus, a lesbian love story in Berlin, 1943? You know it’s going to be interesting at the very least.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I hope to get some real reviews up soon! Feel free to start sending in reviews (more lengthy than these general recommendations, hopefully).

Thanks for reading!